Scottsdale City Council erases canvas of $50K Wonderspaces request

“Last Word” by Illegal Art was among showcased artwork at a recent Wonderspaces exhibit. (Submitted photo)

Scottsdale City Council denied a $50,000 request from Wonderspaces Arizona LLC, as elected officials wondered why the for-profit event needed city funding.

During a June 25 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp suggested removing the request from the consent agenda and moved to the regular agenda instead, resulting in Councilman Guy Phillips motioning to deny the resolution.

Ms. Klapp seconded the motion, which carried unanimously with Mayor Jim Lane, Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven and Councilmembers Klapp, Virginia Korte, Kathy Littlefield, Solange Whitehead, and Mr. Phillips voting in the affirmative.

Wonderspaces is a new facility that places and exhibits various traveling art shows. They present their facility and the customer experience as “interactive, experiential and immersive artworks,” according to a city staff report.

In late 2018, Wonderspaces announced the company’s first permanent location inside Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback Road.
For an upcoming three month show running September-November entitled, “Wonderspaces Elsewhere,” the company has proposed a one-year event development agreement with Scottsdale.

Scottsdale Fashion Square sits on the northwest corner of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

On May 21, the Tourism Development Commission recommended the Scottsdale City Council allocate $50,000 in support of the agreement. Allocation of potential funds would be from the Tourism Development Fund, established for events and event development, the staff report stated.

This is the producers’ first request for event development funds.

“I am not sure why this particular item is being suggested for funding,” Ms. Klapp said of the interactive arts event held at the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

“My problem with this event is that this is a business that operates out of space within Fashion Square. So, it is a private enterprise. It’s been there already. It’s already providing an art installation and the plans are that they will continue to have art installations throughout the year.”

She scrutinized why the business asked the city to provide funds for one of its events held during the year for the art installation that changes every few months.

“And, I think because — you know, true some funds are scarce and there’s a lot of requests for them that we should be very careful with the concept of providing public funds to fund a private enterprise that’s providing a whatever-they-want-to-call-it, an event or a show. It’s an art installation and I don’t think it is appropriate for the TDC funds to be going to a private enterprise for a private event on private land.”

Ms. Klapp said during the meeting that normally the events funded are typically at WestWorld or on other public property so she called this request “outside the norm” and “inappropriate” for what the city typically funds.

“I also question whether this is really a tourist destination. This is a location within a shopping mall. So, the people that are going to be going there are primarily people who are in the mall and you have to buy tickets for it. So, it is a ticketed event. It is not a free public event. In my estimation, that is meaning that we are providing funding for a for-profit business to provide something that probably is very nice. I am not talking against Wonderspaces. It is probably a great venue and a great business,” Ms. Klapp said.

However, she added that $50,000 of “scarce tourism funds” for a project like that is misplaced and she could not support it.

Likewise, Mayor Lane said he shares some of the same feelings on the issue.

“I think that this is more on the line with a private enterprise with a business model that it has actually exercised and used in other locations across the country. But, the use of the terminology of an event in this particular case seems to be a little bit of a stretch and it is on private property. It’s within Fashion Square,” he said.

Mr. Lane noted that it is hard to determine whether or not it meets some of the criteria that would lead to “heads in beds” as far as the overall tourism funds go.

“Not only is it a matter of scarce funds, it is a matter of how we are applying those funds and whether or not we are setting a precedent of subsidizing a business model that could easily be communicated into other businesses. I won’t be voting for this either,” he said.

Ms. Milhaven wanted clarification about the entity’s year-long endeavor that needed support for its three-month event since there was discrepancy about the Tourism Development Commission’s initial 6-1 vote recommending that City Council support the event funding agreement.

The three-month show that runs through November has an anticipated attendance of more than 100,000 in which the festival’s producer was projected to allocate $160,000 toward marketing the event against a total budgeted $1.6 million, according to the staff report.

“Based on what we had today they were eligible,” said Steve Geiogamah, tourism development manager, encouraging the opportunity to fund new and existing events.

Additionally, the Wonderspaces event allowed the opportunity to develop events creating “synergy” with the likes of Canal Convergence, identified as an event development objective, according to the staff report.

“It is a private entity. It is a for-profit entity and it is performed, done in a for-profit scenario, which is Fashion Square, which is run for profit, the businesses in there. I have a problem with starting something like this, doing something like this. Where does it go from here?” Ms. Littlefield said.

“What else are we going to be doing in a for-profit scenario business? What other business are we going to be supporting with our tax dollars because we can say it is an event or it’s a tourism event that maybe this leads into. So, I do have a concern with doing something like this.”

Stating that she had no problem with the for-profit business, Ms. Korte said the last time she checked, Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction was a for-profit entity that receives significant dollars from the city.

“Why is it that they are coming for a $50,000 ask if their shows carry themselves? Help me with that,” Ms. Korte said.

Mr. Geiogamah noted the benefits of marketing it from a tourism perspective and benefiting the arts community.

“They qualified and hoped to get funding for it,” he said.

Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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